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State must justify lack of jobs to avoid federal fines

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services is cracking down on families who are not meeting the requirements to receive cash assistance from the state.

For the department to avoid penalties, at least 50 percent of families receiving cash assistance statewide must work a minimum of 30 hours a week.

Ohio has not met these requirements and filed “reasonable cause” for not meeting the minimum because of a lack of available jobs in Ohio. It has yet to be punished by federal regulators for 2010 and 2011, said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the department.

The state has until Sept. 30, 2012, the end of the federal fiscal year, to legitimize failing to meet the requirements in 2007, he said.

“If you bring the program into compliance for 2007, we should avoid penalties for 2008 and 2009,” Johnson said.

Of the 42,000 parents in Ohio receiving cash assistance, only 12,500, or 30 percent, currently meet the weekly minimums, he added. To avoid up to $130 million in federal penalties, 50 to 90 percent must meet the weekly minimums.

The average Ohio resident receiving cash assistance receives $165. A family can be on cash assistance for up to three years.

In Athens County, 203 of 508 families receiving aid — 40 percent — meet the federal requirements.

Ohio is developing a new web-based time and attendance verification system that will allow caseworkers to more easily verify when work-eligible individuals complete work hours.

Workers will be able to clock in and out from their work site and electronically inform Jobs and Family Services.

Though some people who are not meeting the requirement in Athens County want to work, they can’t manage transportation or properly log their hours, said Nick Claussen, community relations coordinator for Athens County Jobs and Family Services.

“We used to have some programs that helped people with transportation to work—a lot of that funding was cut,” he said. “Having the budget so tight is tough on everyone. Those cuts have implications along the line.”

The department used to hire people into its office until it underwent layoffs earlier this year, Claussen added.

“We would like to see more assistance from the state to get people to their work sites,” Claussen said.

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